The recent haute couture week in Paris was one of those rare grand fashion showcases to have more older women walk the runway. From Rahul Mishra to Balenciaga and Chanel, brands attempted to balance their obsessive love for Gen Z shoppers by appealing to older consumers who have long been committed buyers of couture.
Around the same time, two editions of the fashion magazine Vogue celebrated Indian superstars Rekha, 68, and Zeenat Aman, 71, on their covers. A few months earlier, the Oscar-winning Michelle Yeoh, 60, became the new face of the luxury brand La Mer. Is the world of fashion finally embracing the 45-plus woman? Or is it just more tokenism, like the inclusion of a few plus-size models on the ramp?
There is reason to hope that a change is under way in fashion’s relationship with age, given the discussions that have been taking place about the industry not moving forward fast enough on its promise of inclusivity.
Author Shobhaa De, who is in her 70s, says it has “become cool” to embrace all things “grey” and brands have realised that the 45- or 50-plus group is a lucrative market. “People in their 60s and 70s have the money power to push brands and help them achieve commercial success,” says De. “The market for anti-ageing products has gone through the roof. Women of my age can afford to spend (minus the guilt) on looking after ourselves.”
Former model and philanthropist Feroze Gujral, who is in her late 50s, agrees. “Couture is shown on a 20-year-old but a major chunk of the merchandise is bought by people above 35. The target look is 18 but the target price point is for 35-plus. Couture is expensive,” she says.
Delhi-based Mishra chose senior journalist-model Sheila O’ Callaghan as one of his models for the couture presentation in Paris. “She looked graceful. During the casting process, she was our first choice and she had great energy,” says Mishra, 43. For the upcoming India Couture Week (25 July-2 August), he and his team are hunting for an older model. “We would like to cast models who embody agelessness like her,” he says, emphasising that it’s about getting the right kind of attitude for a particular garment.
Couturier J.J. Valaya, who is in his mid-50s, has been advocating agelessness in fashion for years. He has often featured senior models in his shows, with 60-year-old dancer Navtej Johar being the latest. “This trend may continue at my show during India Couture Week as well,” he says. “Fashion and style have nothing to do with age. In fact, you get better with age.”
Model Adhir Bhagwanani, 63, has been noticing a rise in demand for older people, both men and women, on the Indian ramp, in television ads and brand campaigns. “The trend of casting grey-haired models has been around in the West for the last five-six years and now India is copying it.” Bhagwanani says he has never faced discrimination but adds that “there’s ample scope for more inclusivity in ramp castings”.
That’s what designer Dolly J. wants for her shows as well. “Till date we haven’t had a fitting moment for such an inclusion. We are working towards making this a reality soon,” says Dolly, who is part of the India Couture Week calendar. “It is crucial to promote agelessness, irrespective of gender, in runway shows.”
As De says: “Women after 40 invariably struggle to find space for themselves in a world that is anything but age-agnostic. All the silver ladies gracing covers and fashion shows, a big hurrah! But will this translate to more attention being given to lesser-known women of a certain age? Only time will tell.”
Manish Mishra is a fashion journalist and digital creator.